Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Secret of Secrets


I started collecting secrets when I was just six years old. I would put them in a little chest-like jewellery box that I hid under my bed. I wasn’t sure at the time what my ability meant or how I could use it. All I could do was put in one secret after another. They never evaporated or rotted inside, though as the days passed I realised I had to get a bigger box.

A secret is silky, silvery and card-like, though often slightly thicker and occasionally with a hue of another colour. When I turned eighteen, new colours started appearing. I then began to sort them and group them together. Shades of pink for love, shades of green for money, prosperity and good-fortune, orange for anything related to secret meetings; romantic excursions – those were a mix of pink and orange. Then there were the silvery-blue secrets, those were my personal secrets. Finally, there was red, and it only ever appeared twice. I didn’t make that particular choice of colour, the secrets did and of their own accord too. I hated red afterwards. Red was for death.

By twenty-one, the secrets began to have a mix of shades; after all secrets tend to combine several secrets within them. The way I saw them, these secrets would have been very pretty to an onlooker.
There was never one.

I never told anyone about my ability; simply no one would believe me. I did try to tell my mother once. She listened silently. When I was done, she said it was an interesting story and wished me good night.
It’s an odd gift, I am aware of that. But aren’t all gifts strange in nature? A mind-reader would be seen as mad but then again he could prove it.
I couldn’t.

My friend Jenna dropped in once while I had my chest of secrets open. I quickly hid it but some of them fell on the carpet as I hurried to hide my secret. At first she didn’t notice anything; then she said there was something glittery on the floor but could not really see or catch it. When I told her I had clumsily dropped some glitter on the floor while doing our assignment for Arts class, she believed me in an instant.

After twenty-one, my ability evolved into – well something between a real gift and a real curse.
Whenever I shook hands with anyone, their emotions gushed through me as a high voltage of electricity stings the person who touches the naked wire. I instantly saw what they were thinking and feeling. At first, it made me extremely dizzy and unable to stand up straight. For a month, I claimed I had a severe case of flu but after that I had to pull myself together by hook or by crook.

Jenna, who had always been honest with me, had never told me that her boyfriend was so abusive. That summer’s day that we met, I fell off my chair in pain. Holding her hand, I grit my teeth as I saw images and her stream of thoughts trying to hide in the depth of her consciousness. She had applied a lot of make-up that morning to cover the bruising on her face and the black eye, had worn bandages on her back to keep the wounds from opening again, had cried for hours in the bathroom before she could muster a fake smile to show me when I came to pick her up.

Furious rage swelled through me. Somehow she felt my anger or part of it because she asked “Angela, why do you look so red? You look like you’re about to explode!”

I took in a deep breath and tried to calm myself. I told her that I could see the black eye under her make up. It was a lie, but I didn’t think she could handle my secret of secrets, not at that moment at least. She broke into tears and flung open the cupboard of abuse that she has been enduring.

When I got home that day, I was still on the verge of exploding. I had to get that secret out. I put my thumb and index finger to my temple and pulled the silvery shapeless secret out. It didn’t take a form. It just looked like a wobbly silvery thing. It was practically colourless – for silvery no longer represented a colour to me. I held it in my hand, the pain lessening in my body but bits of the memory still lingering in my head; like me, they didn’t know where to go or what to do.

The secret in my hand wasn’t stable either. It didn’t have the usual semi-solid semi-liquid state it had and didn’t take the card-like form. It just wriggled in shapelessness. Slowly it began to gain several colours: dark grey, black and a dark shade of red.

So these were the colours of anger, I thought.

Jenna was stuck in that relationship. She couldn’t leave – naturally she’d be dead before she even articulated the idea to herself. She couldn’t stay – she’d be dead quite soon. Her body couldn’t take much more of it. I could feel it.

Naturally, I asked her to spend a few days with me – as we used to do when we were younger. It was out of the question.

There was one thing I could do. But it needed practice. I had to practice harder than before. I intensified my practice over the next week or so. While calling Jenna almost every other day to check on her.

It helped my training that through the emotions I got from Jenna, I also got her boyfriend’s. He didn’t love her; he merely used and abused her.

Women often claim that their abusive fathers, brothers, boyfriends, or husbands love them but are unable to control their anger or that they – the women – act idiotically therefore earning those waves of wrath. That’s not true and I can vouch for that. Few, in fact very few, have such a relationship. The rest: the men simply don’t care and need a punch bag to show them who’s the man and show off their so-called masculinity.

I know. I have seen it and felt it. I know love from jealousy from hate from rage from pure ugliness in a person’s soul. I have seen them all, and more.

Jenna knew nothing of my plans, only that I had insisted on coming over for dinner and making several dishes myself. Jenna didn’t object to my loading her with this dinner but at the same didn’t mind getting the load of cooking off her back – whatever was left of it. Her boyfriend, Matt, would never object to another person’s cooking since he maintained such a formality with everyone.

The hypocrite.

He hated me.

And I knew it.

And after knowing his misdeeds against my best friend, I indulged in his hate and jealousy.
I made several dishes that day; from lasagna to meatloaf to my signature chocolate cake. I knew Jenna hated meatloaf and Matt loved it.

Jenna didn’t believe me when I told her that the day she left Matt, I would be the one to take her home.
“The day I leave him would be the day you mourn for me. I will be let out in black plastic bag on a stretcher.”

“No. You won’t.” She looked at me in disbelief as I looked back with a sly smile and air of absolute certainty of what I was saying.

The dinner table looked splendid. Matt was thrilled with the meatloaf, though less thrilled when I insisted that he keep it till the end. He had to at least try my lasagna first. Out of courtesy, which I am sure wasn’t one of his qualities, he did as I requested.

At last, the meatloaf.

The moment he took that first bite and swallowed, he fell off his chair and was thrown hard against the wall. Jenna jumped but merely stood back, her hand on her mouth. The sight before her was too familiar and too painful.

Matt appeared to be pinned to the wall by an overpowering invisible force. His face twitched horribly. At first he was silent, holding back his voice then he started screaming. He put his hand around his neck; he looked as if he were choking himself then as if he were trying to push back whoever was choking him. He yelped and wailed, fell to the ground then slammed against the wall again.

Jenna was motionless. She was afraid. I didn’t have to hold her hand to feel it. It emanated from her.
“It’s ok,” I whispered in her ear, and I felt her hold body ease a bit. She came to hold me but I said “Wait.”

She gave me a confused and inapprehensive look, but waited. Her eyes had shifted from her twitching and trembling boyfriend to me. I, who stood there motionless but unaffected, unsurprised; I, who had complete composure despite the absurdity of what was happening.

Matt fell to the ground again and managed a breath and said ‘You poisoned me!’

“No. I did not.” I said calmly. “You did.”

This time, Matt was flung with his face against the wall. He screamed in pure agony.

“It is called pain, Matt. And it’s not mine. It’s all yours.”

I went to the door and motioned for Jenna to follow. She did. I let her out first and as I followed, I called out to Matt and said “All yours. Enjoy!”

Jenna was speechless after we got home. Only then was I able to tell her of my ability. Naturally, she didn’t believe me, but the things I recounted from her memories, the things she never told me, made her believe that strange as it – or I – was, it was all true.

“I didn’t put poison in the meatloaf. I suck at Chemistry, you already know that. All I did was put your pain in it. I used all the buried memories of your torment, all the secrets you had bottled up, all the anguish you buried deep that I was able to feel through you, all that I channelled into that meatloaf. It was intense. If I were to channel that amount of agony into a tree, it would have withered to death on the spot.

“I apologise for pushing you away when you needed a warm hug but I couldn’t let your fear ruin that moment when I added fuel to the fire or rather more pain. I made him suffer using his own methods. All that he inflicted upon you, I channelled into him over and over. Your pain had become his pain.”
Jenna was in tears of surprise, relief and joy.

“And don’t worry; he’ll bring all your stuff soon. I am pretty sure he doesn’t want to see you ever again, especially with your evil friend, who I’m sure he thinks is some wicked witch.”

I held her in my arms that day and felt her pain and sorrow subside into happiness and content.
I am seventy now and not once have I taken out the memory of that day. Jenna is happily married and her daughter is expecting twins. Jenna doesn’t dare hide anything from me anymore, for she knows I will find it out whether she means to tell me or not.

Jenna carries two big secrets now: that day and my gift.



Note: This story was my entry for one of The First Line contests. So, the first line is theirs.